A clean facility is one of the most important aspects of food safety. Foodborne illness cases are estimated to be around 48 million each year, according to the FDA, prompting concern among consumers and food industry professionals alike.
Beyond developing a sanitation protocol and putting an environmental monitoring program in place, adding ATP monitoring to your safety plan can go a long way to reduce the risk of bacterial foodborne illness from products produced in your plant. And ultimately, that can give you a boost in reputation and consumer trust.
Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) is the unit of energy that exists in all living cells. ATP monitoring utilizes a rapid bioluminescence-based testing schedule that can help assess how clean surfaces or liquid samples are.
Basically, if ATP shows up during testing, there hasn’t been adequate sanitation and there may be food residue, allergens or bacteria present. It can be used to determine drinking water or beverage cleanliness, measure equipment or product sanitation, or manage fermentation processes, among other applications.
What ATP Monitoring Does (and Doesn’t) Do
ATP monitoring can be a helpful way to make sure your facility cleaning is satisfactory, but it’s important to note that ATP monitoring does not take the place of bacterial and viral pathogen testing. To start, viruses usually won’t show up on ATP monitoring samples because viruses aren’t technically living cells. And ATP will indicate any living cell, not just harmful bacteria cells.
But with ATP testing, you can determine first and foremost whether there are high levels of organic residues, including microorganisms, in your plant. Your results are ready in seconds — making it a great alternative or supplemental method for hygiene monitoring.
ATP monitoring points to areas where bacteria may lurk, unseen to the naked eye. It’s an efficient way to identify potential contamination or verify that your sanitation process is up to par.
So how does it work? Since ATP is found in living cells, testing for it gives a direct measure of biological concentration. Testing shows how much ATP is present by measuring the light that’s created when ATP reacts with luciferase (the enzyme present in fireflies) using a luminometer. The more light that’s produced, the more ATP is present in the sample.
Incorporating ATP Monitoring into a Food Safety Program
Kits and luminometers are commonplace, with several options available to the food industry. ATP monitoring can be used to point to potential vulnerabilities in processes that can be solved by better cleaning methods or protocols.
Begin by designating locations and personnel who will perform the ATP monitoring, as well as the schedule for sample collection. Create a map of surfaces that you intend to focus on. For a comprehensive program, sample food contact areas, hard-to-clean areas such as valves or drains, and areas that have grooves, cracks, corners and other irregularities where bacteria can hide.
Collect samples from clean surfaces and use aseptic techniques to prevent contamination during testing. The point is to see if your sanitation process is working, so avoid sampling until after your equipment and surfaces have been cleaned.
Experts advise having a structured, consistent cleaning schedule and a sampling area of 4×4 inches. Sample surfaces each time in the same conditions (always wet or always dry, etc.) so that you can easily compare data and identify trends.
Use your results and trend data to inform any changes that need to be made in your cleaning protocol to reduce the risk of foodborne pathogens. ATP monitoring can be a simple way to prevent dangerous bacteria from entering the market.
Working with a Trusted Lab Partner
Barrow-Agee Laboratories has more than 100 years of experience in food safety testing. Our experts are able to help guide you in setting up an ATP monitoring program and determining the proper testing process.
If you discover the presence of bacteria, follow up by sending samples to our laboratory for microbial testing to find out what type of microorganism(s) are present. Our microbiology laboratory tests raw materials, ingredients, finished product, and environmental swab samples for pathogens including Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli O157:H7, as well as indicator organisms like coliform/E. coli, Enterobacteriaceae, aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, and yeast and mold.
We provide fast turnaround times to keep your business running smoothly and your products safe for consumers. We consistently renew our certifications and accreditations and remain active in proficiency testing programs, including LGC – Microbiology. When you work with us for microbiology testing, you receive the benefit of our ISO 17025 scope of accreditation, providing assurance that you’re working with a proven and accountable testing partner.
Contact us today for more information on how to set up an ATP monitoring program to supplement your microbiology testing.